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Catering to family pets

SOU graduate hopes his new Pet Pantry franchise will become a profitable business

Steve Jensen admits that he squirreled away every cent he could for years.

Now the recent Southern Oregon University graduate has invested his savings and more into a franchise he hopes will feed his family ' and a few hundred dogs and cats.

You've heard of the starving college student? asks the 26-year-old entrepreneur, who is married and has two sons. It definitely applies to me. But I was religious about saving money. I love to save and saved every penny I could.

Jensen and his wife, Sandie, secured the Medford-area franchise for The Pet Pantry products in August with the backing of Pacific West Ventures, a Portland-based investment group. The couple began home delivery of pet food in October. Theirs is the fourth Oregon franchisee and among 64 nationally for the Carson City, Nev.-based company that sells in 30 states.

When we checked it out, the franchisees were doing pretty well, Jensen says, and it was a young-enough franchise that we thought we better strike before everybody else got into it.

Jensen grew up in Roseburg and spent time in Louisiana and Alaska. He married Sandie, whom he met in Salt Lake City. He enrolled at Southern Oregon University, majoring in business management and minoring in computer information systems before receiving his degree in June.

When it came time to turn education into earnings he relied on the advice of Medford businessman Robert MacLellan, whom he interned under at Pacific West Ventures.

Among Jensen's internship tasks was developing a location report for an area bank that involved everything from aerial photography to scouring zoning maps and scanning tax files at the county assessor's office. Last April, Jensen confided to MacLellan that he was contemplating going into business for himself after graduating. The veteran entrepreneur offered what he called two earth-shattering questions for his most recent prot?g?.MacLellan told him that 775,000 new businesses started in 2001 and asked how many would still be operating 10 years later. Statistics show about 5 percent last that long. Then the mentor asked what percentage of franchise businesses survived that period. The answer was 95 percent.The only sensible way to go is the franchise route, MacLellan says. But they don't teach you that.The Jensens pored through a stack of more than 30 potential franchise possibilities, ranging from eateries to chemical treatments for windows.Doughnut maker Krispy Kreme was a tasty notion, but the Portland-area franchisee also owns the rights in Southern Oregon.Metal Supermarkets, which bills itself as a convenience store for everything from aluminum to titanium, didn't quite mesh demographically.A custom brick-work paving system looked interesting but wasn't necessarily workable.Ultimately, they decided they wanted a retail business without the storefront.Pet Pantry began franchising in 1996 and Vice President for Business Development Wade Webster says the company should surpass &

36;3 million in revenues after finishing 2001 just under &

36;1 million.The Jensens raised &

36;17,000 from savings and family toward the &

36;62,000 franchise and Ford van costs, with Pacific West taking an equity position to cover the rest. After a training trip in Nevada, they were in business throughout Medford, Ashland, Central Point, Phoenix and Talent. They also possess the Grants Pass franchise with an eye toward Douglas and Klamath counties.As for the product, they're convinced it will sell itself.The pet food is processed in Alberta in the Canadian Rockies and shipped directly to the Jensens' warehouse near the airport on Bullock Road. Pet Pantry boosts sales through telemarketing, while the Jensens ' including 2&

189; -year-old Evan and 9-month old Seth ' knock on doors on Saturdays.They've already signed up 100 customers.Dog food prices run from &

36;14 (15 pounds) to &

36;32 (50 pounds) with a specialized blend for allergy-prone pooches tabbed at &

36;52. Cat food runs from &

36;14 (12 pounds) to &

36;30 (50 pounds). A storage bin is provided.To reach The Pet Pantry, call 770-2600.

Sandie and Steve Jensen are building a business around catering to your pets ? they deliver pet food to customers like Cooper as part of a national franchise. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli